The Ukraine Love Triangle

Ah, Love. The mysterious thing that just about every human being desires above all us. The elusive feeling we all dream about having. Every once and a while every one probably dreams about having two people in love with them, fighting for them. How romantic! Well, move that paradigm from romance to a political context and the picture is not so pretty anymore. That is what Ukraine is in the thick of right now.

Like most good love stories, this one has a unique and complicated history.When pro-Russian political candidate Viktor Yanukovch was elected to the presidency in 2004, protests were almost immediate. The people rose up and the revolution was a success; the election results were nulled and Yanukovych resigned as Prime Minister.
However, the Orange Revolution was not enough to scare Yanukovych away from poltics forever. In 2010, he was declared President over Yulia Tymoshenko-a candidate who, according to BBC online, held the votes of the capital city, Kiev, and 16 regions of the country. Soon after the election, the government had Tymoshenko arrested .

Fast-forward about three years and the event occurs that brought the love triangle to center stage: President Yanukovych and his cabinet announce that they are officially rejecting an agreement that was created to strengthen ties with the European Union (EU). The cabinet instead proposed closer relations with Russia, a decision that mirrors choosing a lover despite the outcry of friends and family.

With Kiev at the heart of it all, protesters gathered in the thousands across Ukraine in order to express their extreme discontent with the direction in which their country is headed. These demonstrations were met not only with national police forces sent to quell the action, but also with pro-government supporters staking their claim in Maidan square in Kiev and the more pro-Russian cities such as Kharkiv.

These protests and riots have been going on for weeks now with the number of protestors hitting 800,000 on December 8. Things turned deadly on January 22 when two individuals were shot and killed after a fight with the police. The death toll escalated dramatically after Yanukovych’s parliament imposing anti-protest laws on the Ukrainian people.

Although the laws were short-lived, they provided enough motivation for the protestors to continue their fight for their voices to be heard. All of this pressure quickly became too much for Yanukovych who fled Kiev after signing a compromise deal with opposition leaders and the foreign ministers of France, Poland and Germany calling for the creation of a national unity government and a new election in December.

The President was last seen in Balaklava near the Crimean peninsula on Sunday, a predominately Russian region of the Ukraine. There is now an official warrant out for Yanukovych’s arrest on the grounds of the “mass murder of peaceful citizens,” according to interim interior minister Arsen Avakov.

Although it seems to be clear that a large number of the Ukrainian people want their country to make headway on closer relations with the European Union, there is still so much left to decide and determine. From the finalization of a unity government to the insidious amount of debt that the country has accrued since protests began, the future of the Ukraine is shrouded in mystery.

Now comes the question of what is next for this Eastern European nation, literally and metaphorically sandwiched between the two entities who wish to attach themselves to it. As if the political climate of the nation was not enough already, there is also the issue of economic instability and the repercussions that would come upon the Ukraine determining which nation to run into the embrace of.

From where I sit, it appears that there are about two potential paths for Ukraine. The first would be that the newly appointed government would decide to listen to the cry of its protesting people and make strides towards closer relations with the EU. This would upset dear Russia and by doing so, put the Ukraine in quite a sticky situation monetarily speaking due to the potential withdrawal of around 15 billion Russian dollars. The second option would be for Russia to continue with Yanukovych’s plan and deny the EU for its first love and veritable sugar daddy, Russia. This, I believe, would be the worst thing the Ukraine could do at this point, in terms of politics and the current zeitgeist of the nation. Although saving them money, this choice would almost certainly lead to more uprisings, immense civil unrest and perhaps more death and violence; it would be a blatant slap in the face of the people.

Either way, there will be a group of Ukrainian citizens who are not happy with the decision. But, that is nearly always the case when it comes to politics. If the Ukrainian government cherishes its people and wants to do right by them, I believe that moves should be made to continue to improve relations with the EU. However just like any good relationship, for it to work it is imperative that decisions are approached with humility, candor and courage.

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Ukrainian Riots of February 2014

The fires are still burning through the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, following violent protests towards the government that began earlier in the month.

 

In November 2013, Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych refused to signed an EU trade agreement to strengthen ties between the country and the union. Minor protests followed that turned violent into the New Year.

 

On February 18th of 2014, a planned protest by Right Sector (a group of right-wing, government opposing young men and women) took place, initially intended to be a peaceful affair.  Police cordons were put in place, and angered by the government’s seemingly unnecessary barricade, Right Sector fought back with force. Almost 50,000 people lined the streets of Kiev, attacking police in order to gain control of the area. It resulted in a violent uprising in the country, as protesters threw Molotov cocktails, the police have begun to retaliate with live ammunition.

 

Some protesters claim that Russia’s heavy handed attitude of assisting Ukraine has led to the country being inadvertently under Russian rule. After giving a loan of $15 billion to Ukraine, as well as a discounted use of Russian oil, the Russian government has pressurised the Ukrainians not to give in to EU support. As a result, Ukrainian’s right-wing activists are reacting in the only way they know how.

 

Viktor Yanukovych has fled to the east of Ukraine, escaping the mayhem that ensues in the capital. The former government that last ruled ten years ago, headed by Vitaliy Zakharchenko has stepped in to take over and help to bring peace back to the country. As the government in power’s chairs sat empty, Zakharchenko won by a vote of 386-0.

 

It’s hard to condone the acts of the Ukrainian Government, Police or the right-wing protestors. All are acting instinctually by resorting to violence. Whilst the protestors have almost been driven to this, it seem Ukrainian officials are acting in this way due to pressure from Russia’s officials. It’s an understandable looming pressure, but when it compromises the demands of its people, it jeopardises Ukraine’s future as the conflict only grows between Ukraine and its citizens.

 

Russian threatens intervention in Ukraine

As the dust settles on the ground in a fractured Kiev, an arrest warrant for ‘mass murder’ has been issued for ousted Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych. However the world’s eyes aren’t focused on Yanukovych but on the President of neighbouring Russia Vladimir Putin amidst fears that Putin will act on threats to intervene in the situation in Ukraine.

 

These fears have prompted Britain and the US to offer further financial help to Ukraine to compliment the $15bn loan deal that has been agreed with Russia, however if this deal is to fall through it is vital the US and UK help out and deliver the $35bn that is needed to meet government needs this year.

 

The country has been plunged into grave financial turmoil in the wake of mass protest turned violent, which resulted in 88 deaths and hundreds more injured.

 

Fears that there may be a Russian intervention have come after the Russian foreign minister claimed that protesters had failed to abide by a peace deal signed on Friday. This prompted Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, to say today, “If people crossing Kyiv in black masks and Kalashnikov rifles are considered a government, it will be difficult for us to work with such a government.”

 

However it has been made pretty clear in the same statement that the money promised by Russia will be received by Ukraine as Medvedev as he said that any of these agreements that are legally binding ‘must be honoured’.

 

With this I believe that Ukraine will be able to begin mending the wounds these past few weeks have given, however the biggest factor on home turf will be the capture of the ousted president, not any intervention by other countries. If Russia and Ukraine are able to sort out the differences of opinion and get this money transferred then this should divert any feeling that there should be any military intervention in the country.

 

However because there has already been a ‘failure’ in the eyes of the Russians with the peace deal that has been agreed on Friday, it’s hard to assume that there won’t be any more intervention on by their neighbours and it may feel for the Ukraine to accept the money offered that there is something owed to Russia. This is where the EU as a whole needs to try and take some sort of regulatory role to make sure there isn’t any foul play on either side of the agreement, and this may be helped by the pledge from George Osborne to give money to Ukraine, and any other offers from the US or any other European countries so that they might have a say too.

I Predict a (Pussy) Riot

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Tension in Russia is nothing new. If you happen to be a straight cisgender male, you’re generally okay. If you are literally anybody else, you essentially reside in an informal jail cell. Protestors of the human rights deficiencies in the country are treated with extreme measures, and nothing exposed this as viscerally as the treatment of the Pussy Rioters. A feminist punk rock protest group from Russia, they first made worldwide headlines in 2012, when they staged a performance in Moscow’s ‘Cathedral of Christ of the Savior’ of their song ‘Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away” in reaction to the Orthodox Church leader’s support of Vladimir Putin during his election campaign. they were arrested and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. they were imprisoned for two years and only released in December 2013. “We didn’t ask for any pardon” Alyokhina stated at the time of her release, “I don’t need mercy from Putin.”

Today, it has been revealed that two members of the Pussy Riot movement, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, have been arrested in the Russian resort of Sochi,  near where the Winter Olympics are being held, after Alyokhina posted a photograph of what appears to be them imprisoned in the back of a police van in Sochi.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova told the BBC that she and Maria Alyokhina were being held at a police station after being detained on suspicion of “theft”. They have not yet been officially charged. Ms Tolokonnikova said that they had arrived in Sochi on Sunday to perform a new song, ‘Putin Will Teach You To Love Your Motherland’, about “political repression in Russia”. She tweeted that the authorities used “force” during the detentions near a ferry terminal about 30km (20 miles) north of the seaside Olympic venues.

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This comes after more controversy in Russia concerning the removal of a transgender rights activist from the Winter Olympics arena on Tuesday, which was defended by the International Olympic Committee as being “peaceful.” Former Italian MP Vladimir Luxuria – dressed in rainbow colours – was taken away by four unidentified men in a car with Olympic markings as she tried to enter an arena Monday night for a women’s hockey game. The first openly transgender parliamentarian in Europe was guilty of watching the Olympics in Sochi while holding a banner reading “Gay is OK”. This is another event showcasing the rising tensions in Sochi due to Russia’s oppressive human rights laws. While being gay has been legal for twenty years, a new law that was passed recently puts LGBT rights and issues are alien to Russian culture, and members of LGBT communities should be regarded as second-class citizens and should not be regarded as equal to the rest of Russian citizens.

Alistair Darling accuses Salmond of blindfolding the electorate

Darling meets with members of the public in the Piecebox Café in Polwarth.

Darling meets with members of the public in the Piecebox Café in Polwarth.

Better Together campaign leader, Alistair Darling, today met with members of the public to discuss the most recent developments in the  independence debate. The meeting, at the Piecebox Café in the city’s Polwarth Crescent, comes days after the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, dismissed any hope that an independent Scotland could share the pound with the rest of the UK.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer accused the First Minister of asking the people of Scotland to walk ‘blindfold’ into the polling stations 200 days from now. He said: “In the past few days the wheels have been coming off the nationalist wagon.

“Alex Salmond is not prepared to tell us what currency we will be using and cannot guarantee that if an independent Scotland were to join the EU that they would have the same deal as now.”

DSCN0608[1]Darling strongly emphasised the point that with thecurrency union completely off the table now there is no way to know what the pound in your pocket will be worth in an independent Scotland. This was reinforced by a representative from the Federation of Small Businesses present at the meeting who voiced concerns over the fact that many businesses rely on trade in other areas within the UK, an action that would be made difficult and expensive without a common currency.

He also warned that a change in currency could have dramatic effects on business in Scotland, and suggested that companies such as RBS and Standard Life would face a choice of a move down south in order to trade in the currency held by the majority of its customers.

Finally Darling warned not to take the decision of voting yes or no lightly, as the vote on 18 September is final: ”The result, whatever it is, will stand.

“People have to understand that there is no going back, and if the polls say yes? The result is binding.”

[ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE EDINBURGH REPORTER 17/02/14]

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Philip Seymour Hoffman R.I.P and the Superbowl.

Paolo Cui, Jessica Mercer and Bruce Watt talking about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Superbowl Result in a fun and friendly chat!